Intel Downsizes Chips Again

PCs from HP, Dell and others are being beefed up with Intel's "Prescott" chip.

Enterprise IT buyers are hoping to get more bang for their buck from new Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. systems that are being beefed up with an upgrade to Intel Corp.s Pentium 4 desktop processor line, code-named Prescott.

The chip, which Intel is expected to release this week, is the Santa Clara, Calif., companys first to be made using the 90-nanometer manufacturing process, which can put 125 million transistors on a single die, allowing for better performance. By comparison, Intels 130-nm Pentium 4 processor core, code-named Northwood, holds 55 million transistors.

The Prescott, in addition to offering 1MB of Level 2 cache (about twice that of Northwood chips), will feature 13 more instructions than the Northwood, most of them aimed at multimedia functions. Although initial versions of the Prescott will run no faster than the 3.4GHz Northwood, also to be introduced this week, the 90-nm process provides enough headroom for Intel to release by years end versions of the Prescott that run at 4GHz.

Analysts say users will see the greatest benefits this spring from Intels Grantsdale chip sets, which add PCI Express.

Officials at rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., which will release its own chips built via the 90-nm process in the third quarter, said the manufacturing process will also enable it to improve dedicated logic and I/O capabilities, as well as enable them to lower the power consumption.

For example, AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., later this quarter will release models of its Opteron processor that consume less power, first using the 130-nm process and later this year using the 90-nm process, officials said.

For IT customers, speed bumps and features are nice, but their primary concern is price. Kevin Wilson, product line manager for desktop hardware at Duke Energy Corp., in Charlotte, N.C., said most enterprises dont pay for the fastest processors. Theyd rather pay less for the next speed step down, which usually offers plenty of performance.

"It is not so much the features in particular that will eventually cause the processor to find its way into our system configurations but, rather, the processors future positioning in the Intel price/performance hierarchy," said Wilson, an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "[However], its reassuring to see Intel continue to enhance the Pentium 4 product line."

The 90-nm process and Intels use of larger, 300-millimeter wafers—which translates into more chips being made at once—reduce Intels production costs and could translate into less costly systems. Intel expects some Prescott desktops to be priced at less than $1,000.

A number of computer makers this week will roll out systems powered by the Prescott. HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., will offer the chip in its d330 and d530 business desktops, as well as in two consumer boxes. Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, will offer the chip in its Precision 360 single-processor workstation and Dimension XPS desktop, and later this year it will put the chip into some of its servers, a spokesman said. Gateway Inc. will begin offering the Prescott in a few of its business and consumer lines. In addition, IBM, Acer America Corp. and MPC Computers LLC will announce PCs incorporating the chip over the next few weeks, officials from those companies said.